Amusingly, since I recently sat through Kevin Costner’s portrayal of a root in’ tooting’ Eliot Ness with tough guy dialogue penned by David Mamet, there seems to be a mild controversy brewing whether or not to name a federal building after Ness who seems to have been quite a lot milder than the fictional version…
Far from the pistol toting, Al Capone-busting Chicago lawman of lore, Eliot Ness “was afraid of guns and he barely left the office,” according to a retired IRS agent who spoke out Friday against naming a federal law enforcement building in honor of the Prohibition-era leader of The Untouchables.
Ness was lionized thanks in part to oversimplified Chicago newspaper articles about the fight against Capone that downplayed the essential but less sensational role the Internal Revenue Service played in bringing the bootlegger to justice for tax evasion, said former agents at a City Hall hearing. Those early accounts were later conflated by authors and Hollywood producers into what they said was the legendary-but-inaccurate Ness character portrayed by Robert Stack on TV and Kevin Costner on film.
The testimony came as aldermen took a closer look at a notorious chapter in Chicago’s history with a movement afoot to rename after Ness the headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington, D.C. U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are pushing for the name change, but veteran Southwest Side Ald. Ed Burke, a history buff, says Ness simply doesn’t deserve the honor.
Other Ness critics say his personal shortcomings contradict the strait-laced, incorruptible persona that brought him fame. By the end of his life, Ness was in debt, drinking heavily and had cheated on all three of his wives, according to several biographical accounts.
(click here to continue reading Chicago aldermen: Eliot Ness overhyped – chicagotribune.com.)
from the original press release, January 10, 2014:
Illinois’ U.S. senators proposed today that a major federal law-enforcement building in the nation’s capital be named for Eliot Ness, the Prohibition-era crime fighter who helped bring down Chicago gangster Al Capone.
The headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, built in recent years, would be called the Eliot Ness ATF Building under the senators’ resolution.…
“America’s fight against dangerous drug gangs is far from over,” Kirk said in a statement with the two other senators, “but in honoring Eliot Ness’ public service and his tireless crime fighting we reaffirm our commitment to safe streets and ensure that justice is brought to the Illinois families who have suffered.”
Added Durbin: “Chicago gangster Al Capone believed that every man had his price. But for Eliot Ness and his legendary law enforcement team, ‘The Untouchables,’ no amount of money could buy their loyalty or sway their dedication to Chicago’s safety.”
(click here to continue reading ‘Untouchable’ idea — building named for Eliot Ness – Chicago Tribune.)
I don’t know much of the history myself, but I would not be surprised if notorious press manipulator J. Edgar Hoover did not have some involvement in the marketing of The Untouchables.
As an aside, do you have a good suggestion for a book on this topic?